Lawmakers to study water issue, housing

PIERRE (AP) – Lawmakers will study how the use of publicly-owned bodies of water over privately-owned land should be regulated, an issue that has vexed landowners and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

The Legislature's Executive Board voted Tuesday on topics to study ahead of the 2018 session, also deciding to approve a study on workforce housing. The two studies came from a list of more than 20 ideas.

The first study committee would look at nonmeandered waters, which are bodies of water – usually smaller in size – that weren't specially designated during government surveys in the late 1800s.

It would encompass issues including a recent state Supreme Court decision that said the South Dakota Legislature must determine if and how the public can use nonmeandered waters for recreation.

Since the high court decision, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks limited access to infrastructure on more than 20 lakes in the state. It came after Day County landowners filed a lawsuit seeking to secure injunctions against hunters and anglers and the department that would prevent public use of lakes on their property.

Hunter Roberts, a policy adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said that lakes have risen and created good fishing, but it's come at the cost of productive land that agriculture producers have lost.

Rich Widman, president of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the issue goes beyond people who want to use the water. He said losing access impacts taxpayers and will hurt businesses from bait shops to restaurants.

"Everybody has a dog in this fight you might say – or a fish in this fight," Widman said. "People need to realize that they better care about outdoor issues because it affects them not only for the recreational use, but also their pocketbooks."

Roberts said it's a tough issue that will take at least a summer study to give it the necessary due diligence.

The 15-member study committee is also set to look at private property protections, public access to waters, the regulation and management of nonmeandered waters and defining recreational use. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm is set to chair the panel.

Among proposed studies that didn't get chosen was a plan to look into a secretive polygamous sect's outpost in western South Dakota. Republican Rep. Tim Goodwin proposed looking into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' compound near Pringle, including whether polygamy or sex trafficking are taking place there.

House Speaker Mark Mickelson said it's up to law enforcement to investigate. Goodwin's proposal ranked low in a survey of lawmakers.

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